How to own your media relations and your story
Not every startup team has a PR expert among its members, so for many, there remain a certain inhibition and unresolved questions when dealing with journalists: when should you get in touch with them, what should you tell them and how do you get them interested in your startup to begin with?
This week, Vienna saw two events aiming to take the mystery off the topic and help startups own their media relations. “Press Y U no care about me?”, the second Startup Marketing Get Together organised by Kathrin Folkendt and Sektor5 (see Floor Drees’ summary of the happening) took place on Tuesday, followed by a workshop we gave in our home base, HUB Vienna on Wednesday. Here are some of our thoughts on the subject relating to the events as well as the feedback we received to our workshop.
The “unfair” advantage of startups
Your very own inventures.eu team sharing our thoughts at a workshop on press relations. Photo credit: Ina Ciobanu/HUB ViennaAs the presenters at both events agreed, managing your press relations is not rocket science. Moreover, despite lacking resources, startups are actually at a competitive advantage when compared to bigger, and better established companies: They (usually) evolve from a motivated individual (or a group of individuals) with an innovative idea. Often, founders are still part of the team. This is good because people like people they can relate to – or at least, they will usually prefer them to faceless and exploitative corporations (think David and Goliath). Moreover, they enjoy stories that surprise and affect them personally – of big ideas, conflict, friendship… As part of a startup, you should have plenty of them. So tell them and use them to your advantage.
Why be in the media?
Why startups should generally aim to be featured by the press is quite obvious:
- it can help you to get your startup known
- it can attract potential customers, partners and investors
- it’s a relatively cheap way of marketing and brand building
However, as the participants of our workshop found, there are also reasons not to be covered, for instance when:
- you could be featured in a non-beneficial context
- you are not ready to deliver your product or service
- you are afraid your idea might get stolen
- you are not prepared to talk to journalists
Think like a journalist
In order to make the most of any potential contact with the media, it’s important to do your homework. This should start with putting yourself in the position of a journalist, as Mark Suster pointed out in an article on Startup Marketing.
We journalists have our own wants and needs, which will usually reflect those of our readers as well as our modus operandi. Among other things we want to:
- be first
- offer relevant and balanced stories
- have something to show (Faces! Graphs! Oh and then also children, animals and sex)
- present good quotes
- have a reliable person to turn to for more information
If you can help us to achieve these things, you’re almost halfway there to being featured (based on the assumption that your startup has come up with the hottest innovation since sliced bread, of course).
Preparation is key
Once you have started to think like a journalist, get yourself ready for any potential encounters. This starts with preparing a press kit on your website including: basic information about your company and team, contact details, professional photo material, press releases and clippings from previous features (this helps with our research – after all, if we’re not the ones to discover you, we at least want to offer a different angle on your story). Then move on to doing your research on key journalists from your specific field you may want to contact, as well as practising possible answers for interviews.
Of course, things don’t always work out as they should. Besides not being prepared, there are other mistakes that can happen when exchanging with journalists. Be aware of what could go wrong in order to avoid it. Among other things – don’t talk too much about yourself. That is to say, rather than just speaking about your product and how great it is, you should tell them the story behind the problem you solve and why they should care about this, too. In other words, offer them a broader context and something relevant to their particular readership. This may be a completely different story when talking to an editor of TechCrunch or your local daily newspaper and goes for both interviews and press releases.
Another no-no of course, is to overpromise or to provide wrong information altogether, as it will obviously harm your credibility. In that connection, it makes sense to be aware of the rules of the game. Sometimes interviews evolve into interesting conversations and you give out background information that you wouldn’t want out in the public. If that is the case, let the journalist know when something is off-the-record. Since journalists need to follow deadlines, not getting back to their requests in time is another mistake you should avoid.
Since journalists are, after all, human beings, you should also be sensitive towards anything that could annoy them, hurt their feelings, or undermine their professionalism, that is, provided, you want to be featured by them again. Try not to pressure them about when that article about you is coming out. Once they’ve featured you, don’t complain about them picking a certain quote from you while neglecting other pieces of information. Obviously, also do not try to bribe them – in the worst case, this could turn into a story about your corrupt behaviour.
Be in control of your message
It may seem as though there are lots of things to consider when getting in touch with those critical, stressed and often jaded specimen otherwise known as journalists – but fret not. Although what ultimately happens with your story is up to the journalist (or to the even more critical editor), there are ways to take control. Essentially, it is about becoming clear about your message and owning it.
Think about how you would like to be featured and then think again. What would the journalist find interesting about it? Would the local newspaper really want to know just how innovative your latest API is, or would they be more interested in the fact that you’re a bunch of friends, who happen to have a successful business and create new jobs in the region? There are also aspects about you that the media might find really interesting but thatyou wouldn’t want the only thing to be associated with. A drug-induced epiphany that made you realise life was really more about building furniture from dried banana peels than following a corporate career might not be the thirst thing you should rub into a journalist’s face – unless you’re 100% certain you don’t want to go back to your old job or into politics.
Have a story to tell
In the end, it all comes down to having a good story to tell about your startup. Some of the most intriguing stories – including the Bible and Star Wars – happen to follow the pattern of the monomyth or hero’s journey. As a founder, think about your own journey. What was your “call to adventure”? Was there a particular trigger that made you realise you wanted to start your own business? What was difficult about starting up (tests, enemies…)? Who helped you on the way? And how has it changed you as a person? Whatchado founder Ali Mahlodji’s story is a good example of this.
Finally don’t forget that press relations, as the name implies, is essentially about building up sustainable relationships with journalists. Find out who might want to feature you by doing research on articles on topics related to your startup. Contact relevant journalists and show them that you care about their work and needs. In the worst case, they’ll ignore you. In the best case, they’ll write about you and get back to you whenever a related topic comes up.
In this sense, thanks to everyone who participated in our workshop and to all the startups who are taking the initiative to tell us their stories – keep them coming!
We’re looking forward to your feedback and are happy to answer any further questions you might have on the subject!